It’s my semi-educated guess that the old saying, “Man can’t live on bread alone!”, first rolled off the lips of a camp cook several hundred years ago! Why? Because with a sourdough starter and a few other fixin’s in his or her chuck box, a camp cook can make not only bread, but also hot cakes, donuts, cakes, pita bread, rolls, or any other yeast leavened bread. And, thinned out with a little water, it makes a great batter for chicken fried steaks, veggies, seafood, and delicacies of all types!
My first recollection of the term “sourdough” dates to my grade school days when Mrs. Pugmire, my fifth grade teacher, assigned the class to read Jack London’s THE CALL OF THE WILD. At the time I really didn’t focus or spend any extra brain time on sourdough but it did go into my memory archives. Along about this time my Dad, Buzz, began subscribing to Field & Stream magazine. As a youngster who lived to go hunting and fishing with Dad, I vicariously hunted and fished all over the country through the stories of Ted Trueblood, a Field and Stream writer, who later became an editor. Ted often mentioned using “sourdough” in meals he prepared in his camp. These mentions of sourdough in Ted Trueblood’s articles caught my attention and piqued my curiosity to learn more. Little did I know when reading these articles that I would one day work with Ted Trueblood’s son, Jack. My life-long interest in eating took a quantum leap forward in 1977 when an uncle, a marine diesel mechanic, gave me a starter he’d got from a cook on a merchant ship years earlier.
I started making sourdough hotcakes, or pancakes as some call them, right away and can count on one hand the store-bought pancakes I’ve eaten since then. The logical progression for sourdough cooks is to progress from hotcakes to bread. But…do an internet search for “Epic Failure in Two Acts” and you will see a photo of my first attempt at making sourdough bread. Imagine if you will the heaviest and most dense substance ever to come out of an oven and a blue-eyed blond young woman walking out your door, never to be dated again! The moral of the story – Do not try to impress anyone the first time you TRY to make sourdough bread!
Yeast leavened breads date back to the time the Egyptian pyramids were under construction; and, in fact, yeast leavened breads in all cultures around the world were made with what we now call “sourdough” until the debut of bakers’ yeast in the late 1880’s. Using this mixture of naturally occurring yeast spores along with a common naturally occurring bacterium named Lacto bacilli to leaven your bread instead of the little foil packets from the grocery store is a part of our history.
There are many documented instances of sourdough starters being handed down generation to generation and often exceeding a hundred years old. Whether your starter is an heirloom handed down through your family, given to you by a friend, or one purchased from a commercial source, baking sourdough bread takes one back to an earlier time. I consider my sourdough starter a window into the past as well as a portal into the future!